I hurt. There, I said it.
That’s the first thing I think when I wake up in the morning. I hurt. The pain instantly hits me in my conscious state and I know that this day will be just like all the others I’ve had since being diagnosed with lupus and fibromyalgia 15 years ago.
For many years, when I woke up with the debilitating pain every day, I would dread the day ahead. I felt like I had been dealt the short end of the stick and resented all of the healthy people in the world who took for granted how easy it was for them to just hop out of bed and get on with their day. My mindset was definitely stuck in the “negative” default setting. Poor me… (oh..puhleeze!)
As time went on my negativity took over my life. I stopped seeing friends and socializing. I stopped leaving the house. I stopped showering. This previously positive person prior to illness had become quite a mess full of misery and despair. The pain took over my life and I lost all other identity that I once had. I was the pain and the pain was me.
But three years ago, I was given the opportunity to change my life. My family, who was absolutely desperate not knowing what to do with me, enrolled me in a month-long program for chronic pain sufferers. The focus of the program was to learn how to live a fulfilling life with chronic pain. It was there that I learned the importance of gratitude.
Because I felt that I had gone as low as I had ever wanted to go, I felt like I had two choices – I could keep living the way I was living (which CLEARLY wasn’t working for me), or I could turn around and do exactly the opposite. Instead of being consumed by the negative aspects of my life, I would appreciate the positive. And that’s what gratitude is….showing appreciation.
Since every day I wake up with the same pain, I have gotten creative in setting the tone to living a life full of gratitude and positivity. On New Year’s Day of 2016, I gave myself an assignment-I vowed to write one thing I am grateful for EVERY DAY for the entire year and put it on Facebook every morning to put it “out in the universe.” I gave myself two rules for this project: I would try to make each day’s gratitude unique and never repeat, and I would do my best to not be grateful for material things (i.e. iPhone, laptop, etc.) I wanted it to be things that everyone could possibly relate to so they could think about their own gratitude.
Surely this would be an easy endeavor, right? Wrong! During the first few weeks of January, it was a cinch. I was easily throwing out those daily gratitudes left and right:
“Gratitude Day 6: Today I am grateful for a home to keep me warm.”
“Gratitude Day 8: Today I am grateful to be under the care of an amazing rheumatologist.”
“Gratitude Day 9: Today I am grateful to have access to clean drinking water.”
“Gratitude Day 13: Today I am grateful for music.”
The gratitudes were pouring out of me left and right and I was so confident that this 365-day project would be a piece of cake. But then I got to Day 29 and I was simply stuck. I racked my brain for way longer than I should. The pain was particularly bad this day which made cultivating gratitude a little trickier than on other days. And this is what I came up with as my profound gratitude for the day:
“Gratitude Day 29: Today I am grateful for Sriracha.”
Sriracha? Really? Although it was funny and I got some silly comments to go along with it, I deemed myself as doomed for the rest of the year. How cocky I was when I set out to do this! There’s no way I can make it the whole year if I’m grateful for Sriracha on Day 29!!!
But I couldn’t back down now. What I wasn’t bargaining for would be that so many people were actually taking the time to read, comment and like my daily gratitudes. I even inspired someone else to do their own gratitude project! That was something that I wasn’t expecting. In fact I originally was worried that people would find it annoying. But the major reason why I set out to do this was as a springboard for me to live a grateful, wholehearted, and positive life for myself. So I kept going.
And what I realized was that I had to dig deeper. Even in a life full of challenges like living with chronic pain, there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for. One of my favorite sayings is “Not every day is good, but there is something good in every day.” And it is so true.
In digging deeper I realized that there are many things I am grateful for BECAUSE I live with chronic pain. I am grateful that I now realize what is really important in life and I don’t sweat the small stuff. I am grateful for all of the friends I’ve made in my Chronic Pain Anonymous group and in my Facebook support group “Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain.” I am grateful that I now appreciate good days so much more because I know full well how bad the bad days are. I am grateful to have developed a heightened sense of empathy because I know how important it is to receive it on days where I feel like screaming.
This journey of gratitude has set the tone for some really beautiful days full of wonderful moments and memories. Even on days where I just want to cry and hide in my bed, I’ve found that there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for. The change in my attitude has been profound, and I am only on day 95.
I challenge you to develop an attitude of gratitude in your life and watch what happens.
Written by Lauren Zalewski. This article originally appeared on The Mighty and has been published here with permission from the author.